My creative therapy
Posted Wednesday 25 January 2012
Agata, who has been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, tells her story and describes the comfort art has brought to her life.
I came from a dysfunctional family. I saw and experienced a lot of things that a child shouldn’t. I hated school. I was bullied for being foreign and so I retaliated by not co-operating.
I was sent to see many child psychiatrists, but I never spoke. I was scared to tell these strangers my secrets. I moved to various different schools before settling down at secondary school. By then school had become a retreat from what was happening at home – my Mother too suffered from a mental health condition and I had to look after her as well as myself.
So I immersed myself in creative studies, from art to dance. I loved it. It gave me a purpose in life. This was not the first time that I had experimented with art. As a child I would ‘disassociate’ in a corner and draw and paint. I never got bored. I learned to play alone.
I always knew I wanted to be creative. I lived in a dream world. I would fantasise about being successful at something and for me that was art. I lived in my head and I wanted to bring out what was inside me.
I started to take these ambitions seriously when I was accepted onto an art foundation course and then onto a BA Fine art course. The first year of university was terrible and I failed it. I was always having mood swings. But when I was focused I could spend days and nights working on projects without my aggressive symptoms coming out. Creativity soothed my symptoms.
But life was not getting better. It was getting slowly worse. In my second year of university I began experiencing anxiety and panic attacks in social situations. Ever since, I have avoided social interaction in unfamiliar and crowded places.
I did really well at university. I was so proud of myself. Then the realisation dawned on me: because of my social anxiety I had little contacts in the industry who could help me get a job.
I worked for two years as a care/support worker for the elderly and disabled. In the meantime, I kept on with my art.
I had a couple of shows around that time. I was working long hours for little money. I had little time for myself and I just crashed. I lost my home and my job. I had to go to the council and register as homeless.
Around this time, in early 2010, I had a breakdown. Although I was always seeing psychiatrists as a child and teenager, I was so ashamed of disclosing all my symptoms that I had skimmed past the self-hate, self-harm, disassociation from reality, suicidal thoughts, and so on.
Previously I had been diagnosed as having depression. Over the years I had been prescribed all sorts of antidepressants. Sometimes these didn’t work. At times they actually made my symptoms worse.
This time I knew I needed to tell the truth. I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD). When I was diagnosed, I felt a sense of relief. Now I could understand my symptoms. It felt like a weight had been lifted.
I was offered treatment on the dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) programme at the Oscar Hill Service in London. Although therapy helps, there is no cure for BPD (as I was told in writing by my psychiatrist) and this is something I will have to try and manage for the rest of my life.
I am still uncomfortable telling people about my therapy and condition because it is portrayed so negatively in the media. I am scared of how people will react. Of course the closest people in my life know what I am struggling with and are understanding and supportive.
Expressing myself through art is the thing I know I can do best. Being an artist however is never easy and I have had a lot of knockbacks because of the type of art that I produce. My themes are very personal to me. They are usually about my emotional and physical health/pain or about gender politics – things that I feel very strongly about. My work is at times not easy to digest. I feel I deal with a wider truth that a lot of people are afraid to confront.
I am still working as an artist and my specialism is fine art photography and sculpture. I am happy and grateful to be given the opportunity to start an MA in Fine art this autumn.
When I feel awful, I think about how lucky I am to have a gift to help me through my life and guide me to a much more positive place. I see my working time as therapy outside of four white NHS walls.
Making art has given me more self-validation than ever before. I am no longer ashamed of what I make, or feel I have to explain why I work within the area that I specialize in. I have now accepted myself as an artist, even though I have a lot of problems that I need to work at.
Without art, I would not be here today. I feel that art has saved my life many times.
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